I have to keep talking about this two-sided coin. I will advocate all day long for autoimmune and neurological patients deserving compassion, respect, and accommodations for their health conditions, and I am going to advocate for all of us to reach for as much as we can grasp in our lives as well. We live in a very strange zone that is unique to our very unusual health profiles. Most healthy people that we encounter are going to have a very difficult time understanding it initially. Some may never “get” the half of it.
I was very invested in watching Steve Irwin’s programs before his tragic death. His vitality and energy, and the sheer joy you could see it sparked in him to interact with nature the way that he did was just so amazing. He took chances that made me cringe at times, but I can’t be any more critical of…
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This is long, but worth it. What a day in my life is like…. Followed by how I choose to view the experience. I don’t talk often about the details of my health challenges in-depth, because it usually serves no purpose. I want to take the time to be clear that even my good days are not easy, and I am no different than anyone else in that regard. It is how I decided I am going to manage these things that makes a difference. Anyone can make that choice, and do it every single day. It is a daily decision.
When I wake up, my mouth often feels very dry – about as dry as my eyes felt when I went to bed the night before. I can feel stiffness in my connective tissues, from my neck to my feet. I never know which joints or muscles are going to be sore, but it’s always something. My body usually feels like lead, and I have to stretch and turn over a time or two before I feel the energy to roll up to a sitting position (the way I was taught to in physical therapy to protect my lower back). I have to wait a few seconds to adjust to being upright, and then again use what I was taught in PT to safely stand without straining my low back and my knees. Then I have to wait a few more seconds to adjust to being on my feet before taking a step. The first few steps are done carefully, so as not to strain anything in my feet, ankles, and back that has tightened up in my sleep. How many “spoons” have I used at this point? Unknown. (Look up “The Spoon Theory”, if you have not yet read it.) I make sure to drink some water first thing when I’m up as well. Low blood volume doesn’t go well with left ventricular hypertrophy (my heart condition).
At this point I am assessing how my bronchial area feels today. Does it hurt to take a breath? Am I wheezy? Congested? Too dry? I am also finding out how cooperative my nerves and muscles are as I walk down the hall to the bathroom and splash cool water on my face to ease any puffiness around my eyes. How bad does the 2nd metatarsal in my left foot hurt today (it always hurts, just how much varies)? How bad is my right ankle cracking? Which one of my knees feels unstable today? How bad is the “tennis elbow” (both sides), and do I have to be careful with gripping and lifting things today because of it? Do I need to use either of my inhalers? Which one? Is there irritation/inflammation, or is my airway feeling constricted? I never know when I wake up if it will be a bad allergy day with uncontrollable sneezing, wheezing, coughing, or not. I have steroidal nose spray, a steroidal inhaler, and my albuterol. Mix and match.
Everything to this point is also affected by the season. If it is Winter, the process is slower because the cold weather not only puts more strain on my joints and any arthritic areas, but also takes a toll on the vascular system in my extremities – I have Raynaud’s Syndrome. If it’s Summer, I may be dehydrated from the day prior (and I do drink a lot of water, believe me), or simply overtaxed by the heat. I have a few conditions that make me hypersensitive to extreme temperatures and temperature swings, as well as barometric pressure changes. I have Fibromyalgia and Dysautonomia, as well as Systemic Lupus and Raynaud’s. I am photosensitive, so I have to very strictly protect myself from UV exposure when I am out on sunny days. Sometimes those measures fail to be sufficient, and I am paying the price for it by the next day. That reaction could last days, or possibly weeks. I haven’t even made it to the kitchen for breakfast yet…. I’m still in the bathroom putting aloe gel on my forearms because they are tender, dry, and warm from inflammation of the skin. That’s any time of the year.
I have to brush my hair too, by the way. That often involves retrieving my brush from the floor a couple of times because my nerves misfire and I drop it. It might be a morning when I am just too stiff and sore to function without a hot shower before I even eat breakfast, so I may have to step over the edge of the tub to get in and out as well. That’s a normal action for a healthy person, but for me it is a place of caution. I have a sliding glass shower door, so thankfully I have a sturdy frame to hold over my head to prevent falls.. but if I don’t watch that foot lift, clipping the edge of that frame with my toes is an agony I can’t even begin to describe. I’ve done it enough times to move pretty slow these days. When you’re tired…. sometimes you just miss. Or maybe don’t miss would be more accurate. Ouch. Presumably that shower loosened up my muscles enough to make it easier to dress for the day. This is on a day that I am NOT flaring, to be clear. There are days that my only goal is to make meals, check messages, and take it easy. I just try to prevent very many of those from stacking up.
Breakfast these days is usually a fresh fruit and vegetable smoothie. I made that change one year ago, and haven’t regretted it for one second. Occasionally I will make something more “traditional” like eggs, cheese, bacon (in moderation), sometimes with corn tortillas, sourdough toast, or a gluten-free bagel. Once in a while I will have potatoes with that. Sometimes I just have a Larabar or BelVita wafers and some almond milk. What I eat, and how much I eat, varies depending on my energy needs for that hour of the day and whether or not I feel nauseated that morning – a common problem with autoimmune disease, for no definable reason. I also continue to drink more water at this point and through the rest of the day. I drink a lot of water. I have to. I have to take my heart and BP meds. I have to take my Plaquenil along the way – the antimalarial med that tones down the over reactive receptors in my body and keep my immune system in check. I also have a bunch of vitamin supplements to remember. One-a-day chewable (thank you Trader Joe’s), D3, Chromium picolinate, krill oil, bromelain (for the same reason I eat fresh pineapple almost every day – anti-inflammatory), primrose oil, ALA, carnitine, biotin (to manage my hair and nail problems)…. I’ll stop there. In that smoothie, by the way, there are chia seeds, hemp seed nuts, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon (all 3 anti inflammatory), and cacao nibs consistently. Those are part of my necessary supplementation. So are the avocados that I eat every day. I avoid as many processed foods and preservatives as I can. I don’t eat candy bars. I don’t eat ice cream. I don’t drink commercial sodas (the rarely occasional crafted type with sugar, not HFCS). I don’t get fast food burgers and fries. I don’t go out for pizza – haven’t in many years. Does this sound dreary to anyone? I figured I would ask at this point. Think it over, and you can even post your reaction to the idea in a comment if you feel like it. I’ve posted a blog entry before of what I do and don’t eat, if you’re curious for a detailed rundown before commenting.
Does that make you interested, or repelled? I’ve seen all manner of reactions to it. One person said one time that they felt “overwhelmed”. Let me state plainly here that I made these changes over a matter of YEARS, and the most drastic changes were one year ago. No one can switch everything out overnight unless they are independently wealthy and have the intestinal fortitude of Hercules. Seriously. Finding proper resolve takes work. I’m not perfect either, but I don’t dwell on my shortcomings. There is no point in doing that. Somewhere you have to pick a spot and start there. That’s all anyone can do.
To shorthand meals, I eat every 2 to 3 hours in the day to keep my blood sugar stable. I make meals from scratch and create systems that make that easy to manage. I keep it simple. I put away leftovers after serving myself a reasonable portion. I am not compelled to eat what I do not need to eat – food is a utility for fueling my body, not an emotional event.
To shorthand the rest of my day… everything continues a lot like the morning that I described. I have to decide what clothing is comfortable to wear, depending on my Fibromyalgia symptoms and whether my autonomic system is dysregulating and making me uncomfortable. That could be temperature, or how sensitive my skin is, or whether my stomach is touchy. I have to evaluate my anxiety level as well – am I okay to deal with a lot of people and noise in a store, or will going there put me on the edge of a panic attack? I have to consider the weather before I decide to leave the house – too cold/too hot? Moment by moment autoimmune patients have to make decisions based on how their body has decided to respond to each little event in the day, and we have to adapt and make changes to our plans based on how the day progresses without any way to predict it. Based on prior experience, we can guess at a framework, but it often changes anyway. This unpredictable nature of the diseases we face is part of the reason that winning a disability claim can be really difficult. One day I may seem perfectly fine (and yes, I typically look fine most days like most lupies), and the next I am down for the count and it could last days, weeks, even months. It could be from too much sun, or too much unregulated activity, or a cold virus, or an allergy. It could be anything.. and sometimes nothing that we can see. I have not held a job since 2003 as a result. I cannot commit to an employer. They aren’t very understanding when you call up one morning and say you won’t be in, and it might be a couple days… or maybe a couple weeks… or a couple months, you’re not really SURE right now. Each day is new. Boy, that is the TRUTH! I never know what it will bring.
Shopping is a changing adventure. I might “need” to go to 4 or 5 stores and services. I might set out to do it, and some days accomplish that… but others, I might have to cut it short and go home after 1 or 2 stops. I may get home and head straight for a nap because my stomach is upset, or I’m just too tired to continue, or everything hurts too much. Thankfully with the changes I have made, that does not happen as often as it used to. That doesn’t mean it never happens. It is a part of life with autoimmune disease that you have to expect unexpected changes in your day. The key is not to get mad about it. It happens.
This is where I am addressing how I choose to view the events of my day. The reason my Facebook timeline and pages, and my blogs, are not full of complaints about every little ache and disaster is because I consider it the hand I have been dealt in life. I am not angry about it. If you read my posting, you know that I have said that I have had Fibromyalgia since very young. Pain is not new for me, and I don’t have a challenge-free life to look back on wistfully. That may give me a different perspective than some people have. I am still not angry about it. Why be jealous of someone else’s life? Sure, I would love to drop these issues and know what it’s like to not feel weighed down physically, but it’s not going to magically happen. So why stew about it? It makes no more sense than it does for people that jealously rage about others that achieve control, inactive phases of their disease, remission, etc., or criticize others that have a milder case than theirs. The truth is that often the ones we see as a “milder case” are not spilling all the details of their personal rough patches. They may not be as “mild” a case as you think they are. I may be that example. I’m not hiding anything. I just don’t feel the need to dwell mentally in horrors. They exist. They happen. We keep on. I can take a minute to rant about it when I feel the need, but then what? I prefer finding solutions over wallowing there. It’s how I manage to thrive, rather than simply survive. Surviving is only a starting point.
This is how I do NOT see my day: I woke up in so much pain. Just getting up is going to be difficult. I don’t feel like eating, but I have to eat. Nothing is appealing, and what I ate upset my stomach. I have to go to the store and I feel exhausted. I just want to go back to bed. I don’t want to deal with people today, and the thought of it makes me feel like crying and crawling in a corner. I went to the store, but I felt like punching people by the time I was done.. and now I have to carry everything in from the car and I’m too tired. I need to eat lunch, but I don’t feel up to making a meal now. I haven’t worked out today and I know that I need to, but everything hurts too much. The noise in the store (and someone’s perfume) was so overwhelming that now I have a migraine starting. The bills need to be paid, and I’m so stressed thinking about it that I don’t know where to start. The laundry needs done, but I just don’t have the energy to pick anything up. I need a nap. I took a nap, and now I’ve lost a couple of hours of my day and nothing else is getting done… and I’m hungry, but I don’t feel like cooking. My back hurts. My feet hurt. I have to take my evening meds.. can’t forget those. Have to feed the cat. Have to feed the fish. The lawn… the garden… they need water, and I so do not feel like it. There must be a storm rolling in because now I have stabbing nerve pains and I just want it to STOP. Cooking dinner means washing dishes.. and I don’t feel up to either one. I’m tired, but I can’t sleep. I keep waking up… why am I awake again…?
How do I choose view my day? I woke up. I am breathing, and I can move. I may be nauseated, but I have choices in my kitchen and I’m sure I can find something. Rolling out of bed was hard, but I am thankful for the PT that taught me how to do it correctly and not make my back worse. I may be too tired to feel like going to the store, but I have enough in the bank to get what I need the most and if I don’t make it to all of my errands, they can wait until tomorrow. I will do the best that I am able today, and do that again the next. I didn’t like dealing with crowded stores, and I feel very wound up, but I’m proud of myself for getting through it and looking like a sane person in the process. Yay me! I hate carrying bags in from the car, but I got my shoulders repaired 2 yrs ago and I can do it without help now! I may not feel like working out today but I will try to do a little. If I REALLY can’t do it today, tomorrow is another chance and that’s okay too. The store was full of screaming children that hurt my ears and left my hands shaky, but now I am home and it’s quiet here. I can relax again. I can be grateful for that – and grateful for having an effective migraine medication if I need it. I can also deal with the bills one at a time and choose to breathe slowly and control my anxiety about it – what a great skill I’ve learned. I FEEL scrambled, but I can choose to take my time and sort it out. My feet hurt so I’ll take my shoes off and put them up for a few minutes. I have also learned that short breaks are one way to take care of me. Needing a nap is not a crime. I let myself do it when I need to. It’s a healthy choice. The cat, the fish, and the lawn didn’t die in those 2 hours. Nerve pains are anything from annoying to awful at times, but I can walk – maybe slower than I wish to, but I can. There was a time when I could not. Dinner can be something really simple, as long as I make healthy choices. That too is okay. I can’t sleep, or stay asleep sometimes.. but not all the time. (And you know what? When I make the choice to see my day on the level of the successes, I rest a lot better.)
I really just touched the surface of my physical issues and discomforts, even in this writing. Someone once told me when I described how sick I had been as a child, and how often, that they would not want to live that way. I didn’t want to live that way either, but they really meant they would rather die than have the life I had. That to me is not only shocking, but rude. It is as if to say that nothing I endured justified the value of my overall life, or what I may bring to others. This is also a pointless statement to make to a sick person. You do not know what you would be able to endure, or how you would face challenges, or how you would feel about it until it is YOU. My life is hard, but it is still a good life.
Are you building yourself a good foundation, or self-sabotaging? The power for that is in your hands alone. We autoimmune patients are not the only challenged people in the history of the planet, and we do not have a corner on the market in suffering. We have the exact same opportunities to strive for a better quality of life in the midst of adversity as everyone else has always had. When you hit a rough patch, scream if you need to and get it out of your system. Cry if you feel like it, and cleanse yourself. Rant about it to your closest friends that you can share with mutually, and confront the feelings. When you are done, be done. Wash your face, take some deep breaths, shake off the anger, and embrace your blessings. It’s then time to move forward again, at whatever pace you are able.
I go through time frames where I am able to do more. I take full advantage of them when they come, and it’s not because it is easy for me. It is because I choose to do it in spite of the effort it requires of me. You should see how I am when I wake up in my sleeping bag in a campsite after a cold night in the woods. I don’t move any faster there than I do at home, and in fact it takes me longer. For these things “can’t” is simply no longer in my vocabulary, and it did once occupy a space. Doing things differently and more slowly – adapting – is how I managed to accomplish this. I can accept changes without accepting defeat.